Wean-to-finish technology shows promise. This relatively new management concept has the advantage of only moving pigs once. Improved production is possible and some costs may be lower. But others may be higher than more traditional production methods.

Is wean-to-finish the "silver bullet" we've been looking for?

A computer program is now available to calculate how wean-to-finish compares to more traditional nursery, grower-finisher approaches.

Although the profitability of any change in technology depends on the details, our calculations show that expected changes in production with the wean-to-finish technology can boost grow-finish profit.

While traditional nursery-finisher technology uses two (or more) facilities during the grow-finish phase, the selling point of wean-to-finish barns is the idea of using one facility from weaning weight (9-13 lb.) to market weight.

New Computer Program A new computer program, the Lease Rate Model, was developed to help producers make decisions based on varying performance levels, input costs and, of course, profitability. The program, marketed by Farm Business Systems, Aledo, IL (309/582-5628), calculates the profitability per pig space of grow-finish facilities.

Using pig space as the unit of production being analyzed allows the Lease Rate Model to be used much as other programs would analyze crop production on a per-acre basis. Pigs, feed, labor and other variable inputs are combined in this unit of production - utilizing actual production data - to analyze the profitability of the grow-finish pig space.

The model can also be used to calculate a fair lease agreement for a barn on a per pig space basis.

The data required for this analysis can be taken from a good closeout report. Panel A of Table 1 provides an example of such data.

Evaluating Wean-to-Finish Here's our working scenario: A producer has an opportunity to bid (lease or contract-feed) on a new wean-to-finish barn. To make a decision, he will need to compare the budgeted profitability of the wean-to-finish barn with the nursery and finisher he currently owns.

Panel A of Table 1 compares the production and cost data of the two systems. Our producer is currently using 1,600-head nurseries and finishers (Column A). In column A, the nursery closeout data and the finisher closeout data have been combined. The mortality rate of 5.08% reflects the mortality for the entire 176 days, from the time the weaned pigs enter the nursery at 13 lb., to when they are marketed at 246 lb.

Similarly, the average daily gain (ADG), the feed conversion (FC) and the cost data are all combined nursery-finisher data. In column B, there is only one closeout. Note that labor/management cost, utilities cost and lease cost change from column A to column B. In column B, the decreased utilities cost might have been offset by increased lease cost.

Note also that the budgeted production improvements of the wean-to-finish barn include:

* A 0.1 improvement in average daily gain;

* A 0.1 improvement in the feed conversion ratio;

* A 1.0 "percent" lower mortality rate, and

* A 0.5 "percent" reduction in the percentage of cull hogs sold.

Using the assumptions of panel A, the Lease Rate Model generates the results found in panel B. The big changes from column A to column B are the increased levels of production and sales and the lower cost per cwt. of hogs sold.

"Pounds of gain" is up 7.1 "percent" (32 lb./pig space) in the wean-to-finish barn and "pounds of hogs sold" is up 7.2 "percent" (34 lb./pig space), compared to the traditional nursery-finisher management shown in column A.

Note also, that feed cost of gain is lower (3.8 "percent") in column B because of the better feed conversion.

Total cost of production is 3.4 "percent" lower, about what we would expect from the improved production numbers.

In panel B, the profit advantage per pig space of the wean-to-finish barn increases from $8.12 to $8.95 as feed price per ton decreases from $173 to $133. (Three alternative feed prices were evaluated.) This is because more feed is used to produce more pork more efficiently.

Also, note that an added "lease cost" of $4.50/pig space is already budgeted in the wean-to-finish cost. This means that if both grow-finish systems were owned and there were no cash lease cost, the profit advantage per pig space of the wean-to-finish barn would range from $12.62 to $13.45 as feed prices range from $173 to $133.

The effects on cost and profit of small changes in feed conversion, average daily gain, mortality rate and percentage of cull hogs sold are shown at the bottom of panel B. Note that:

* As the feed price per ton increases, the cost of a 0.10 slippage in feed conversion increases. Likewise, the cost of a 0.10-lb. deterioration in average daily gain decreases much more rapidly.

* A small deterioration of any of these production numbers has a 6.9-18.0 "percent" larger negative effect on profit in column B than on column A. In the wean-to-finish barn, there is more to lose.

* As the market price of hogs increases, the positive impact on profit is 7.3 "percent" greater for the wean-to-finish barn, reflecting the greater quantity of hogs sold.

Therefore, the greater productivity of wean-to-finish barns raises the profit potential and increases the "cost" of poor performance.

Watch Out For The Details Early adopters of wean-to-finish technology are generating positive results. There are cases, however, when traditional nursery-finishers outperform wean-to-finish in side-by-side trials. It is clear that wean-to-finish is not a "silver bullet" for all operations.

Like all-in, all-out or multi-site production, some producers will exploit wean-to-finish technology better than others.

Before adopting the relatively new wean-to-finish technology, here are a few cautions:

1. Pig flow is everything. Are adequate pig supplies available to fully utilize the system? 2. Figure out the answer to "overfilling." Overfilling is when the wean-to-finish barn is initially stocked at 150-300 "percent" capacity and then, when the pigs hit 55-65 lb., the "overfill" (or excess) is moved out to conventional finishing. While this practice reduces building cost for small pigs, some pigs experience an extra move; all pigs are disrupted, and, there may be a problem with the efficient utilization of the extra finishing space while the wean-to-finish barn is overfilled. Because this situation is different for each operation, conclusions regarding overfilling are difficult. 3. Know your optimum selling weights. 4. Know your current production numbers and use realistic projections for wean-to-finish. 5. Search out the best building design. Nail down the building cost and figure out if it will pay.